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Portland Community College

Rock Creek Campus Biology Undergraduate Research

Making "learning through research" more accessible to more students.

The Rock Creek Environmental Studies Center (RCESC) is a natural area within Portland Community College's Rock Creek Campus that is considered to be an important natural history area by both the Portland Audubon Society and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The natural area, which comprises the RCESC, includes about 44 acres of woodland, 11 acres of wetland and 44 acres of grasslands. Several smaller unique ecosystems are also present in this site, including several springs and a small pond ecosystem.

There are two sections of Douglas-fir dominated forests, which also include species of trees such as Western hemlock, Western Redcedar, Pacific yew, and Bigleaf maple; in addition to a wide variety of shrubs and plants. The site also contains some bottomland forested areas which include Red alder, Oregon white oak, Beaked hazelnut, and others. Several wetland plant communities and a large grassland area also occur within the RCESC. These areas provides habitat for several groups of wildlife including nesting areas for waterfowl, quail, pheasants and song birds; as well as being homes to mammals such as deer, beaver, muskrat, mink, raccoon, fox and coyote.


Our plan is to start our CURE project by building upon the forest ecology data that has been collected over the years by Environmental Science and Biology students at PCC.  One of our biology students has piloted the use of DNA bar coding for the identification of stickleback fish species from our local streams.  We plan to collect, observe, identify and use bar coding to compare species of invasive and native bark beetles from local forests.  This work will be student driven, and will help us build partnerships with local environmental agencies and university researchers.  Many in the  Portland area are interested in learning more about human impacts on our forests.  The opportunities for integrative student research are plentiful!

Develop Research Course:

"Methods in Biological Research"

Spring 2013:  Experimental course BI 199

Description:  This course provides an opportunity to conduct real biological research to address scientific questions about human impacts on the natural world.  Includes the use of primary literature to formulate questions and propose hypotheses, followed by careful experimental design, data collection, analysis, and presentation.  Emphasis will be placed upon effective teamwork, communication and on the integrative roles of scientific sub disciplines on humans’ understanding and stewardship of the earth’s natural resources.


  • Use primary resources to obtain and conduct critical analysis of valid scientific information about a biological topic.

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the scope of biological methods used to test hypotheses and conduct detailed observations in the pursuit of knowledge about living systems.

  • Ask biological questions and design and carry out controlled scientific studies.

  • Critically analyze the results of scientific studies.

  • Effectively use oral and written formats to communicate information about a body of scientific work including significant conclusions and emergent questions and hypotheses.

  • Identify the various sub-disciplines of Biology and discuss the integrative role of these sub-disciplines in humans’ understanding and stewardship of the natural world.


The power of science:  many tools are available to answer this question!

  • Measure, track, and observe abiotic and biotic components in the forest.

  • Observe, identify, count, collect forest organisms.

  • Use  DNA bar coding to identify species.


Vision and Change Implementation

Integrate Core Concepts and Competencies throughout the Curriculum

  • Introduce the scientific process to students early, and integrate it into all undergraduate biology courses

  • Define learning goals so that they focus on teaching students the core concepts, and align assessments so that they assess the students’ understanding of these concepts 

  • Relate abstract concepts in biology to real ­world examples on a regular basis, and make biology content relevant by presenting problems in a real ­life context 

  • Develop lifelong science ­learning competencies

  • Introduce fewer concepts, but present them in greater depth. Less really is more

  • Stimulate the curiosity students have for learning about the natural world


Focus on Student ­Centered Learning

  • Engage students as active participants, not passive recipients, in all undergraduate biology courses

  • Use multiple modes of instruction in addition to the traditional lecture

  • Facilitate student learning within a cooperative context

  • Introduce research experiences as an integral component of biology education for all students, regardless of their major

  • Give students ongoing, frequent, and multiple forms of feedback on their progress

  • View the assessment of course success as similar to scientific research, centered on the students involved, and apply the assessment data to improve and enhance the learning environment

Engage the Biology Community in the Implementation of Change

  • Ensure that all undergraduates have authentic opportunities to experience the processes, nature, and limits of science

  • Create active ­learning environments for all students, even those in first ­year biology courses

High Impact Practices Implementation

Learning Communities,

Collaborative Assignments and Projects

Undergraduate Research

Diversity/Global Learning

Service Learning, Community-Based Learning


Capstone Courses and Projects

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